On Monday, Occupy Wall Street protester and New School graduate student Cecily McMillan was convicted of assaulting police officer Grantley Bovell during a demonstration on March 17, 2012, a felony that carries a maximum of seven years in prison. There’s been widespread shock and outrage over that verdict, and the lengthy prison time McMillan could do, particularly in light of the fact that she maintains that the incident began when Bovell grabbed her breast from behind, causing her to involuntarily elbow him in the face.
Apparently, the jury in the McMillan case is just as shocked as everyone else. In a letter dated May 6, nine of them wrote to Judge Ronald Zweibel, the judge who heard the case and will sentence McMillan on May 19, asking him to be lenient. The letter reads, in part: “It serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.”
McMillan is currently incarcerated on Rikers Island, where she’ll remain until her sentencing hearing. Martin Stolar, her lead attorney, had asked Judge Zweibel to allow her to remain free on bail. He refused. In a hearing yesterday morning, he appeared before an appellate judge, Angela Mazzarelli, and made the same request. The District Attorney’s office was there and opposed the motion. It, too, was denied.
“I didn’t receive any reason,” Stolar says. “She didn’t have to.”
The same afternoon, though, Stolar received a copy of the jury’s letter to Judge Zweibel. It is dated May 6, and reads, in full:
Re: petition to the court for leniency on sentencing
Dear Judge Zweibel,
We the jury petition the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan. We would ask the court to consider probation with community service. We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case, and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.
We also ask that you factor in your deliberation process that this request is coming from nine of the twelve-member jury.
Thank you in advance for you consideration.
Charles Woodard, juror #2
Another juror had previously expressed shock to the Guardian newspaper that her sentence could be so lengthy, telling reporter Jon Swaine: “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”
Stolar sounded pleased but not overjoyed when we spoke to him today. That’s because juries, once they’re discharged, have little to no sway over what happens in the courtroom. “Jurors are no different from you,” he said. “You could write a letter telling them what you think the sentence ought to be.”
That said, he added, this type of post-conviction plea from the jury is highly unusual. “I’d say it’s extraordinary.”